Wednesday, December 1, 2010


One of the fundamental points of contention between libertarian and socialist philosophers is their views on "The Market." As a philosopher, let me try to clear away some of the noise that impedes rational discussion.

First of all, the term "market" is ubiquitous. Everyone likes to talk about it but they are rarely talking about the same thing. I'm one of the few philosophers that "hangs out" with economists, so I've obviously been influenced by them. However, even economists often fall prey to ubiquity. So here's my philosophical analysis based on what I've stolen from philosophers and economists.

More than anything else "markets" are the natural consequence of scarcity. Our lives are finite. Although there are 24 hours in a day, I usually sleep 8 hours out of that which means I have 16 hours a day to "do things." The average lifespan of the average American is about 78 years old. My genes suggest a shorter lifespan for me. Thus, every day I have to deal with this "time market," which means I have to decide how to spend the rest of my life. Right now I'm writing a blog entry. There are costs associated with that decision. I could spend this time preparing for a meeting one hour from now, grading exams, or playing guitar. In other words there are "opportunity costs" associated with me writing this blog. You are reading this blog. There are other things you could be doing with your time. That's why I appreciate the fact that you're reading it! After all, there are thousands of other bloggers on the Internet. You could have spent this time reading their blogs, watching television, or taking a walk. Taken together, there is a "blog market" where us bloggers compete for readers with finite time, energy, and resources. I sell Freedom's Philosopher on that market, you bought it. No money was exchanged, but you bought it with "time and effort." No one forced you to read it, and no one forced me to write it so here we are participating on that free market. I also read several blogs on a regular basis and spend time and energy commenting on those blogs. Writing and reading blogs is a form of cooperation.

My blog also participates in another market. The market of "ideas." Since the nineteenth century, philosophers have been participating in an "extended" market across several generations comprised of competing "ideas." My blog ideas usually relate to the nature of government and it's role in human affairs, however, I also expend time and energy thinking about and writing about health care policy. In fact, my mind is a marketplace of competing ideas. Right now I'm thinking about markets. My blog competes with, not only with other libertarian blogs, but also with Marxist and anarchist blogs. The beauty of the Internet (as it currently exists in the United States) is that the "idea market" can thrive. No one forces us bloggers to blog and no one forces you to read them. Consequently, there is a lot of variety on the Internet, which is a huge marketplace of ideas. (It's also a great place to buy books and guitars!) Unfortunately, you can't read every blog on the Internet market because of the natural scarcity of time, energy, and resources. If I spend too much time writing and reading blogs, my wife will get mad at me and my students will complain that I'm unprepared for class. In fact I have to end this blog right now and go to that meeting. I wonder if anyone will notice that I didn't prepare for it?


writewriterandtutor said...

I'm not an economist or a philosopher, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and declare that markets aren't always a natural consequence of scarcity; but rather a natural consequence of the human desire to innovate and thereby achieve peer recognition and financial reward for the creation of something that fills a niche that people will want enough to pay good money.

Your argument suggests that you have a scarcity of guitars and you are running out of time to buy them! ;-D

writewriterandtutor said...

My apologies, but ubiquitous means "everywhere"; so much so, that we fail to even notice them anymore--like cell phones. The term you probably mean is opaque. Opaque means hard to understand; not clear or lucid; obscure: The problem remains opaque despite explanations.

Freedom's Philosopher said...

Thanks WWT. Couple of notes on participating in markets. You don't have to have altruistic motives to participate. I write a blog because I get pleasure out of writing and discussing ideas. The ideas themselves are also markets. Culture is an enormously complex market.

As for scarcity, if we all had infinite, time, energy, and resources (If we were all God!), then there would be no market activity. Don't get hung up on money. That's only a small part of market activity. We all must budget not only money, but Time, Effort, and Resources.

As for the scarcity of guitars at my house. I only have seven of them. They all serve different functions. If I were a millionaire I'd buy a lot more. Right now, I have to budget for an expensive new pool liner, which costs more than three guitars. Darn it!

As for the word ubiquity, I really do mean to suggest that markets are everywhere and that we often don't realize it. How many markets are involved in responding to your comment? Obviously, there's the time market, the effort market (x number of calories expended thinking and hitting keys). We both own computers, which are a necessary condition for blogging and commenting. The college gave me this computer, which is low quality but low cost. I wouldn't have bought it if I had to pay for it. I would have paid more and bought a MAC. I'll probably do that soon...another market. But I can't afford it right now. Someone else will read this exchange, they are participating in the market too. You're right. Ubiquity contributes to conceptual ambiguity. Thanks for employing 456,978,000 neuronal connections in commenting on my blog. Fortunately, you inherited a large brain, therefore, you rarely run out of connections. You and I both inherited a shortage of math neurons which explain why we're writing and not not rocket scientists.

writewriterandtutor said...

Freedom's Philosopher I concede to your larger point that markets are exchanges and therefore above monetary rewards. Good thing too because when the dollar falls, all we'll have is the barter system. Maybe you could trade some of your guitars for that pool liner so your sister can swim next summer. ;-D
PS I always have extra neurons for you.

Freedom's Philosopher said...

On the other hand, I really do agree with you and Peter that things could get very ugly in the U.S. and very soon. I don't expect crony capitalism to be of much help.